In today’s rapidly changing environment, the race is on to find effective ways to combat climate change and preserve our planet.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technology that can prevent carbon dioxide (CO2) from being released into the atmosphere and contribute to the fight against climate change.
But how does it work, and why does it matter?
This article will explain the basics of CCS, its benefits and challenges, and the policies and incentives that can support its deployment.
What Is Carbon Capture And Storage?
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is an innovative technology designed to help mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from fossil fuel power plants and other industrial sources.
Global temperatures are on an upward trajectory as increasing levels of greenhouse gases such as CO2 continue to be released into the atmosphere, primarily from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.
In response to these pressing challenges, CCS technologies have been developed to reduce carbon emissions significantly by capturing them at source – often power plants and industrial facilities – before they reach the atmosphere.
Once captured, these harmful emissions are transported through pipelines or other methods to secure underground storage sites where they can be safely stored for thousands of years.
By preventing CO2 from entering our atmosphere and contributing further to global warming, CCS plays a key role in supporting sustainable development goals while transitioning toward a net-zero emissions future that relies on renewable energy sources rather than depleting finite resources like fossil fuels.
How Does Carbon Capture And Storage Work?
The process involves capturing carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, before it is released into the atmosphere.
The implementation of carbon capture and storage technology consists of three main steps: capture, transport, and storage.
The process of capturing CO2 emissions begins at the source, typically power plants and industrial facilities that produce large amounts of greenhouse gases.
Carbon capture technology separates CO2 from other combustion byproducts through various methods, such as absorption, adsorption, or membrane-based separation.
To ensure safe and secure storage of CO2, it is often transported via pipelines or specialized ships to carefully selected underground locations with proper geological formations.
These sites include depleted oil and gas reservoirs or deep saline aquifers where the carbon dioxide can be injected and permanently stored thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface.
The process of injecting CO2 into these underground repositories is known as geologic sequestration.
The underground locations where CO2 can be stored are carefully selected based on their geological characteristics, such as porosity, permeability, depth, and pressure.
This method has proven effective in preventing leaks and mitigating potential environmental risks associated with releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere while securing its long-term containment beneath our feet.
The Benefits of Carbon Capture and Storage
Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a vital technology that can help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from various sources, including fossil fuel power plants, and storing it underground in rock formations.
CO2 capture and storage potential is considerable for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Energy Agency, CCS technologies could provide up to 18% of the total emissions reductions required to reach net-zero emissions by 2070.
By supporting advancements in CCS technology, governments worldwide can achieve their greenhouse gas reduction targets more cost-effectively than other methods while also benefiting public health by improving air quality—making it an attractive option for businesses looking for sustainable solutions.
Supporting The Transition To A Low-carbon Economy
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) can support the transition to a low-carbon economy. As more countries pledge to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century, CCS offers an alternative approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
By capturing carbon dioxide from industrial processes and power plants, we can prevent it from entering the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
Moreover, investing in Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) technologies could unlock new business economic opportunities.
For example, captured CO2 can be used in various ways like Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) operations or even converted into products like fuel or plastics.
Achieve Negative Emissions
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is not just about reducing carbon emissions. It can also achieve negative emissions.
This means that CCS can remove CO2 from the atmosphere instead of just preventing it from being released.
One example of achieving negative emissions through CCS is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). BECCS generates energy from biomass such as wood chips or agricultural waste while capturing the CO2 produced before storing it underground.
By doing this, BECCS can draw down CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere while producing renewable energy simultaneously.
May Improve Air Quality And Public Health
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology has the potential to not only tackle climate change but also improve air quality and public health.
By capturing harmful carbon dioxide emissions before they are released into the atmosphere, CCS reduces the pollutants contributing to poor air quality.
Furthermore, some carbon capture technologies can extract other pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter from industrial processes, improving local air quality.
For example, one coal-fired power plant in Illinois reduced its sulfur dioxide emissions by 90% after installing CCS technology.
However, there is an argument that CCS technologies can also have trade-offs for air quality and public health, such as increased emissions of other pollutants, such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxide, due to the additional energy required for the capture process.
Lower The Social Cost Of Carbon
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) can significantly impact reducing the social cost of carbon, which measures the economic costs associated with climate change.
CCS technology can lower this cost by capturing CO2 emissions from industrial processes and storing them underground, effectively preventing them from entering the atmosphere.
This avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions can lead to reduced environmental damage caused by climate change and decreased healthcare costs associated with air pollution-related illnesses.
Generate Additional Value From CO2
One of the benefits of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is that it can generate additional value from captured CO2.
Industries utilizing CCS technology can potentially find new applications for the captured carbon, such as in enhanced oil recovery or producing chemicals and materials.
For example, synthetic fuels made from CO2 could replace traditional fossil fuels and help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.
While there is still work to be done in developing these applications, the potential for generating additional value from captured CO2 highlights how CCS can play a key role in transitioning towards a low-carbon future.
Challenges And Future Of CCS
Despite its potential benefits, CCS faces various challenges and uncertainties.
Expensive And Energy-intensive
One of the biggest challenges facing carbon capture and storage (CCS) is its expense and energy intensity. The technology required to capture, transport, and store CO2 emissions is capital-intensive to build and operate.
Running a CCS system can be incredibly energy-intensive as well. As efficiency approaches 100 percent, capturing additional carbon dioxide becomes harder and more expensive.
Extend The Life Of Fossil Fuel Infrastructure
One of the concerns surrounding carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is that it may prolong dependence on fossil fuels.
This is because CCS allows for continued use of existing infrastructure associated with fossil-fuel power plants, such as pipelines and storage facilities.
While this may seem counterintuitive to efforts to transition towards renewable energy sources, supporters argue that it provides a crucial opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the near term.
Increase Oil Production
One consideration with CCS is that it can be used to increase oil production through a process called enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Essentially, the captured CO2 is injected into aging oil fields, which helps to push out the remaining pockets of oil.
This has raised concerns among environmentalists who worry that increased EOR could prolong our use of fossil fuels and delay the transition to renewable energy.
However, supporters point out that this process can also help reduce emissions by preventing the release of otherwise hard-to-capture carbon dioxide from these same fields.
Pose Environmental And Health Risks
While CCS technology has shown potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it also poses certain environmental and health risks.
One of the main concerns surrounding CCS is the possibility of CO2 leakage from storage sites, which could contaminate drinking water and harm local ecosystems.
Another concern regarding CCS involves the long-term monitoring and management of carbon storage sites. This includes addressing liability issues and ensuring that stored CO2 remains safely contained over time.
Require Long-term Monitoring And Liability
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it comes with its own set of challenges. One of the biggest is long-term monitoring and liability.
Once carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured and stored underground, it must be monitored for decades or centuries to ensure it does not leak back into the atmosphere.
Policymakers must determine who will be responsible for this monitoring over time and what level of monitoring will be sufficient.
This requires a clear framework outlining how risks will be distributed among parties involved in CCS projects and regulations that hold them accountable over long periods.
What are the policies and incentives for CCS?
CCS needs supportive policies and incentives from governments and other stakeholders to overcome the barriers and challenges to its deployment. Some of these policies and incentives are:
Implementing a carbon price or tax:
A carbon price or tax can reflect the social cost of CO2 emissions and create a market signal for CCS deployment. It can also generate revenues that can be used to fund CCS projects or reduce other taxes.
Providing direct subsidies or grants:
Direct subsidies or grants can cover part of the capital or operational costs of CCS projects and reduce the financial risks. They can also stimulate innovation and learning by doing in CCS technologies.
Establishing feed-in tariffs or contracts for difference:
Feed-in tariffs or contracts for difference can guarantee a fixed price or premium for low-carbon electricity generated by CCS plants. They can also provide long-term certainty and stability for investors and developers.
Introducing tax credits or deductions:
Tax credits or deductions can reduce the tax burden for CO2 captured and stored or utilized. They can also encourage private sector participation and competition in CCS markets.
Creating regulatory standards or mandates:
Regulatory standards or mandates can require a certain level of CO2 capture or emissions reduction from fossil fuel-based power plants and industrial facilities. They can also create a level playing field and avoid carbon leakage among different regions or sectors.
Supporting research, development, and demonstration:
Research, development, and demonstration can improve the performance and reduce the costs of CCS technologies. They can also address technical uncertainties and knowledge gaps in CCS applications.
Developing infrastructure and institutions for CO2 transport and storage:
Infrastructure and institutions for CO2 transport and storage can facilitate the integration and coordination of CCS projects. They can also reduce CO2 transport and storage costs and risks by creating economies of scale and scope.
CCS is a technology that can prevent CO2 from being released into the atmosphere and contribute to the fight against climate change.
It has several benefits for the environment, the economy, and society, but it also faces several challenges and risks that must be addressed.
CCS needs supportive policies and incentives from governments and other stakeholders to overcome the barriers and challenges to its deployment.
CCS urgently needs to scale up as part of a diversified portfolio of solutions for clean energy transitions. It can help achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to well below 2°C. More research, innovation, collaboration, and action are needed on CCS to do so.